Central African Republic: Bangui silent on fighting in northwest

BANGUI, 7 February (IRIN) - The Central African Republic (CAR) government has remained silent amid persistent reports that rebels loyal to the former army chief of staff, Francois Bozize, have retaken the town of Bozoum, 384 km northwest of the capital, Bangui.
"These are military secrets, and I am bound to preserve official secrets," Col Jerome Bouba, the deputy defence minister, told IRIN on Thursday when asked to comment on the reports.

Government troops and those of their ally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC), had been occupying the town. Newspapers in Bangui report that the government has sent reinforcements of MLC fighters and Rwandan militiamen to try to recapture Bozoum, which straddles the road linking Bangui with the Cameroonian seaport of Douala, through which all the CAR's exports and imports pass.

It is still unclear who controls Bozoum, but independent humanitarian workers told IRIN that Bozize's fighters had been occupying it for two weeks.

These developments occurred 10 days before the announced planned withdrawal of the MLC fighters, who had aroused the wrath of Bangui residents for their acts of rape and pillage. The MLC fighters have been shoring up the CAR army ever since Bozize's failed invasion of Bangui on 25 October 2002. On Radio France Internationale on Tuesday, President Ange-Felix Patasse said the public was urging him to keep the MLC fighters in the country. On the same occasion, he renewed his call for French military intervention.

Patasse has initiated efforts to hold a "national dialogue" to end the crisis. On Wednesday, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo received the bishop of Bossangoa, Monsignor Paulin Paulin Pomodimo, who has been nominated to chair the dialogue. Pomodimo had come to seek Sassou-Nguesso's advice on conducting an effective dialogue and on conflict resolution.

"I have received some sound advice from friends who want to help us prepare properly for our national dialogue," Pomodimo said.


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